Thursday, September 28, 2006

Here and Gone

Tonight at the Amato Opera down on Bowery, we'll be previewing a scene from "Here And Gone," the new play I'm writing.

Here are the opening stage directions:

"Heaven. The stage is a view of the infinite with the spirits of everyone who ever was lounging on clouds, basking in the full knowledge of the mysteries that the living only wonder about; it’s an impressive view, but nothing to write home about. The clouds are white and the sky is blue and the two people in the center look at each other sharing a secret smile that may be the only inscrutable thing to be found in Heaven."

Come on by to find out what happens; the show starts at 7:00--Oh, and I'm also appearing in the scene . . . (you can click on the Sparkplug link to the side for more info . . . )

Monday, September 25, 2006

On the Bowery

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Play Guitar

I got my first guitar when I was about eight. Cheap thing, but it got me through "Michael Row The Boat Ashore" and years later that same guitar got Ben through his first couple of years of playing; he used to stand out on the balcony when we lived in Florence and sing versions of other people's songs to the pigeons and helpless Florentines. Linda and I imagined that the neighborhood around San Felicita used to refer to him as the "Wounded American." He's on tour in England now and he's got all his own material, so . . . you know . . . if you missed his Florence gigs and you're in Bath . . . He's kind of wonderful now in a smoldering, talented sort of way.

I think Rob even had a brief period where he gave that guitar a few picks and strums. I seem to remember listening to him playing Stairway to Heaven and a Nirvana song on the other side of his bedroom door one summer up in Canada. He was really good; I never learned Stairway to Heaven . . .

I got my second guitar when I was about nineteen and I didn't play much between eight and nineteen. My Mom bought me both guitars. I'm still playing that second one.

From about the time I was eight to eleven, Mom managed rock bands and for much of that time our apartment at the corner of Oakdale and Racine in Chicago doubled as a rehearsal hall. The upstairs was large and loft-like. That's where my sister, Katherine and I had our bedrooms, off to the side of the large open-area. The door to my bedroom was an American flag (when it wasn't my blanket) and it was the only thing that separated me from the music. To this day, loud music makes me feel warm, like I'm safe.

If the babysitter didn't turn up (or Mom just couldn't afford one), Kath and I would have to go to the show with her. Mom used to tell stories about me sleeping through a Rolling Stones show, backstage under the coats of the band. When she was alive I heard that story so many times that it almost feels true. I do vividly remember falling asleep in the third row of a Jerry Lee Lewis show and Mom trying to wake me when The Killer lit his piano on fire. I would have none of it--I was safe, warm and dozing--If Jerry Lee wanted to burn the place down, I'd have slept through to the end, as long as the band kept playing.

Anyway, I recently began playing my guitar again, sitting out on the front steps of my Brooklyn home, strumming away for strangers who stop and listen while they wait for the bus. It's been a lot of fun. I go through these periods and I'm sure enough in one now.

On Monday, I went to hear Nels Cline and Glenn Kotche, the lead guitarist and drummer respectively for Wilco play a show with Jenny Lin and Elliot Sharp at a small church on 66th street as part of Lincoln Center's Wordless Music Festival. Well, first I drove through Manhattan at noon and picked Nisi up in the middle of a "George-Bush-is-in-town-let's-bring-traffic-to-a-virtual-standstill" day, weaved my way through Manhattan and delivered her to New Jersey before coming back and collapsing for a few minutes before heading to the show. They make beautiful noise those two and I felt the warmth and peace I feel with music, and on this particular night it arrived like a blessing.

And don't even get me started talking about that M Ward concert last week; my soul is still quivering from that one. And then, earlier tonight, I went to hear Jeff, Bekkah and Konrad play. And they rocked my world with sweet, mellow goodness--it sure is nice to be friends with such talented folks.

I'm rich with music and soaked soul-deep. And tomorrow morning, when I wake up and get back to work on this new play I'm writing, I'll be taking my breaks on the front steps, working out the chords to this new tune that's been playing in my head.

By the way, that's Nels up top and Jeff down below--thanks to you both; I needed that --and M Ward? I owe you one . . .

Monday, September 18, 2006


Standing out on my front steps just now, I looked up into the sky and saw a shooting star falling somewhere between Jersey and Manhattan. I made the same wish I made a week or so ago when, stopped at a light, coming home, listening to Michael Stipe sing the line, "You are the star tonight, a sun electric, out of sight; you might eclipse the moon tonight" I looked up and saw the first shooting star I had ever seen from New York City. It was falling through the sky between Jersey and Brooklyn, just above Staten Island.

Allison says I need to stop being surprised when these things happen to me.

I say I'll take all the shooting stars the universe is offering.

When Champ Hood died, there was a story in the Austin Chronicle that a friend of his told about a night he and Champ were sitting around a campfire at Kerrville. Champ looked up into the sky and said, "My goodness, I just saw a shooting star!" His friend said, "well, Champ, you ought to make a wish."

Champ thought for a second and said, "I wish I'd see another . . . "

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

In the meantime . . .

I've been going through a lot of old drawings lately, thinking about the journey and the stops along the way. It didn't start as a trip down memory lane, but you can't go through seven years of work and not stir up a healthy dose of "Know Thyself."

Hirschfeld once said to me that when he looked at his old drawings he sometimes wondered why anyone ever bothered to publish them. Of course, he was almost 100 years old when he said this and for all I know the drawings he was talking about were, well, The Marx Brothers posters he created or the original poster for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

When I look at my drawings from when I first moved to New York--you know, the ones that I was making and thinking "I should move to New York and be a succesful artist"--I have a hard time understanding where I got the nerve. It's like the old chestnut where someone's flying along and then they're told that they can't fly because they're not a bird, so they fall. That was me, but no one ever told me I couldn't fly. And I don't suppose I would have listened to them if they had, because it really felt like flying at the time.

Monday, September 11, 2006

A Different Sky, A Different View

The train wouldn't take me past Houston, but if I got out there, I could walk down to Canal. It was a week or so later, but if you want to talk about time meaning nothing, you should have been here for the week, the month or the year or so after September 11th.

The last phone call I answered at the Red Cross help line that Friday after is the one that stands out. The woman on the phone summoned the thing which chanelled her desperate fury and directed it at me, telling me that I was no help, that she had a child and an entire family staring at her, waiting to get the information about what had happened to her husband and that I was being an obstacle. My knees buckled and my heart broke but there was no information to give her; I was just a volunteer, taking information over the phone about missing people ("What were they wearing? Do they have any distinguishing features?"), there to deal with the first wave of grief. What could I tell her?

Anyway, I made my way down to Canal street, with the loose papers of the World Trade Center still blowing through the streets, as if the people inside had been transformed into scraps and confetti, and I leaned upon a mail box and looked South . . .

Monday, September 04, 2006

End of Summer

This one's gonna be all over the place.


There was this moment, late in the night in her hospital room, soon after Mom had gotten sick, a day or so after the surgery that essentially gutted her. I was only partially awake, jolting into awareness whenever some new sound or movement happened; and for the beginning of an end, it all seemed pretty new to me. It was just me and Mom and the sound of the various tubes and machines which emerged from her selected orifices and the four holes that had been cut into her sides to help drain the copious fluids from her lungs and chest. She was in bad shape. We all were, but she was the one with the pain-killers.

I heard her say something, so I went over to her bedside. The bed was some sort of air-mattress and sand thing that kept her comfortable given that she could not move. She took my hand and mumbled again and I leaned in closer and asked, "what?". She looked me in the eye and said, "I wonder what I'm gonna be next?" and I asked again, "what?" and she stared out and said, "maybe a Sumo wrestler . . . " I said I didn't think it likely and she smiled like a patient mother on qualudes, closed her eyes and said, "you don't understand."


Last week we were driving back from Canada listening to Abbey Road and the final medley came on. I've always been fascinated by Abbey Road because it's the last album the Beatles recorded, but it followed the legendarily miserable recording sessions for Let It Be. And no one ever goes into great detail about how exactly they decided to put all the misery on the shelf and be Beatles again one last time before stepping into the unknown. And it's so self-conscious and beautiful. The whole album resonates with the energy of transition, of leaving the thing you know and stepping into the next.

And there's no better section of any Beatles album for displaying the love and trust they had in each other as individuals and the faith they had in themselves as a group then at the very end as Paul McCartney launches into a lullabye, mourning the fact that once there was a way to get back home, but that day is done. And then they sing, "Boy, you're gonna carry that weight a long time" as if they know exactly what being a not-Beatle is going to be like.

And then they jam, giving Ringo his first drum solo (forcing it on him), chanting "Love You" like that's what it's all been about. And then the trio of guitar solos kicks in--Paul first, then George, then John, then Paul, then George, then John, then Paul, then George then John laying into his guitar like he could teach Neil Young a thing or two and then it's over with the Final Words, "and in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make."

Well, then they throw in a quick little ditty about the queen, because it's best not to take these things too seriously.


When I was writing my dissertation, I got into the habit of compartmentalizing time into something other than the 24 hour day and the sixty minute hour. For example, at one point I got ready for bed and knew that when I awoke the next morning to put the final push into my writing, that day would last six weeks or so. And when I slept at the end of that six-week day, I had finished writing and I slept well.

When we ended the first month or so of Mom's illness, I flew back to Austin and thought to myself, "That was the end of the first day . . . " The next three or four days of that period lasted a little over a year.

The day after I handed my dissertation in I went to an art-gallery and showed the woman who ran the place my work. She said, "you just handed in a dissertation?" and I said, yes and she said, "OK, I'll put your drawings in my gallery, but you need to do some thinking about what happened between yesterday and today."


My favorite line in all of literature is spoken by Tomasina from Tom Stoppard's Arcadia:

"A door like this has cracked open five or six times since we got up on our hind legs.
It's the best possible time to be alive, when almost everything you thought you knew is wrong."

It's the end of summer and there's a whole bunch of I-Don't-Know heading our way. Smile. Suck it up. Into the next. My Mom's a Sumo Wrestler . . . .

Drawn to Dawn

It was three or so in the morning and we were drifting to sleep on an air mattress on Lafayette waiting for tickets for Mother Courage. Nisi picked up a pen and my other drawing pad and started drawing people in the line . . . . Suitcase Jenny hadn't gotten there yet, so she didn't make it into the drawings, but we got a photo . . . .

Friday, September 01, 2006

August Blues

I've been out of town, so I'm sorry to be late with this . . .

Drawn a year ago . . .